Part IV: Tales of Bellingham: Real People NOT “Shadow People”

Copyright ©Jane H. Johann, 2016 "Bellingham"

Copyright
©Jane H. Johann, 2016
“Bellingham”

This winter, I found myself in Bellingham, a city of contrasts and beauty. Along the waterfront of Bellingham Bay, hundreds of expensive yachts dot the shores and then there are the Homeless People sleeping without comfort or blankets in the doorways of businesses two blocks away.

This is an account of my experience with the people who find themselves homeless in this city with a small town atmosphere.

Since my daughter worked during the day, I had a lot of time on my hands after cleaning the one bedroom apartment.  So I would carry my feet out the door, and begin walking.

The “Old Downtown” begins with the Lighthouse Mission, that is just a stone’s throw away from Whatcom Creek. During the day, many homeless people frequent the park, sitting on the concrete steps or on a few park benches that grace the green park. Usually, many just sit on the ground in a group, drinking the free coffee that the library provides them.

For the first several weeks, I shyly watched their activity, passed them in the early morning hours as they lay sleeping in the entrances to many of the businesses down the main street. Some were wrapped in sleeping bags, others, piled with layers of clothes and cardboard. My daughter, who works at one of the Social agencies in town, told me that there is a two year waiting list for subsidized housing in this city. The average rent for an apartment is between $650 and upwards. The average social assistance check for an individual without any financial means, is about $720. So how does a person who is living homeless, raise themselves out of that situation without an advocate?

Perhaps if we could each adopt one Homeless person, we  might succeed. How do we begin?

I thought I needed to begin to do something. And my beginning was overcoming my fear and speaking to a Homeless person and to see them as a human being.

The weather this past winter was moderate, not 70 degrees but survivable outdoors. While I was there the temperature lingered around 40 degrees F (4.4 degrees C). Still, I could not imagine lying on the cold concrete all night long, with the usual morning fog precipitation, and waking up feeling invigorated.

Each day, I would leave the apartment and say to myself, “Today is the day I will speak to a Homeless person.”

I walked with fear and my usual shyness among them. Obviously, Mother Teresa I was not!

Maybe that is one of the reasons of WHY she is so admired. She stepped out of her comfort zone and did for thousands of people what so many of us fear to do for one person.

I have been away from city life for the greater part of the last 29 years. I read about the Homeless people and do NOT like addressing them as shadow people–as someone graciously corrected me, because if we call them shadow people, we are stripping them of their reality and situation, making them less human to ourselves. We are removing them one more step from ourselves. So, yes, I have read about the Homeless, on occasion I have handed out dollar bills when going into the city. Quickly being admonished by others for giving out money. But then I think, “Hey, once in a while it is nice to have some real money in my hand and make my decision as to what to buy with it.” I have also handed out McDonald’s bags—not too sure about that nutritional value. I have handed out fruit—but more often, dollar bills.

Now I found there were many Homeless people all around me. Every day I walked among them. And in the four weeks that I walked through Bellingham City, NOT once did a Homeless Person approach me or ask for money.

I felt very uneasy…guilty that I had a place to stay…and they had none.  I had food to eat everyday, and most of them had none.  I was working up my courage to approach one of them and help them in any way that I could.  I guess, in truth, it is part of my underlying issue of having a purpose myself, of wanting to stay involved in the human struggle and make a difference.

I thought, “They are people and deserve recognition and dignity. Any one of us could find ourselves in this very situation.”

So one morning, I spotted this young lady, about in her 40’s, sleeping in a door entrance on West Holly Street,  not far from Whatcom Park. She had about three blankets piled high upon her, in addition to disheveled hair and layers of clothes.  I began walking towards her and was determined I would speak to her and buy her breakfast. I was about three feet from her, when she suddenly jumped up from her sleep, and literally went  dancing into the streets, screaming and waving her arms and continued at an incredible pace down the street. My initial  reaction was being startled by her behavior and then I thought, “Oh my God, I frightened her!” Then, I did not know what to do because by that time, she was quite a distance from me.  She disappeared from my sight and I was left with my thoughts.  I didn’t know what to do or to whom to speak to about my experience.  And, she also had to no one to talk to…no one to share her experience with…socialization is a missing component when one is homeless. It was obvious to me, that this woman needed medical assistance.  This is another missing component of our society–many of the mentally challenged are not helped. Why are they not taken care of by us? Is our neglect born out of fear, born out of legalities of the law, born out of the complacency in our society that these things are NOT our personal issues and we do not have to get involved?

That day passed with no resolution.

The next day, Christmas Eve morning,  as I was walked a bit further East and down Cornwall Street, I spotted this very tall lady, wearing sweatpants that were just below her knee, leaving a good 12 inches bare to the wind, an oversized jacket, and some tattered gloves on her hands. She appeared to be about 70ish and had long white hair neatly tucked under the red tuque that donned her head. She was also carrying a trash bag. Then I later heard from another acquaintance that I met there, who has since become a good friend, that Marta makes the rounds throughout the neighborhood and collects all the aluminum cans that she can carry, every Tuesday.

I passed Marta and then stopped myself. I turned around, and returned to her and said, “Excuse me. I know you don’t know me. I am just  visiting the city and was wondering if you could give me directions.”  It was not that I needed directions, but I didn’t know how else to begin the conversation. Marta responded very politely to me and we talked a little, and she told me where she lived and then we parted.  I walked a bit further, and then I called back to her. I said, “You know, tomorrow is Christmas. I want to share something with you. I handed her some money.” She said, “Are you sure?”  I said, “Please, it isn’t much but you are working so hard to help keep this city beautiful. You deserve it.” She finally accepted it and went on her way.

I don’t know what she did with the money, but I thought she would put it to good use. I don’t know if it helped or not—what I do know is, that I make contact with another human being and recognized her as a person. I am sure I benefitted more from the encounter than she did. I do suppose it was more for my growth than hers.

The week continued, and I made more conversations with more Homeless people.  My uneasiness was beginning to evaporate.  Eventually, I carried with me a bag of apples, and would offer a piece of fruit to those I met along the way.

During one of my final weeks in Bellingham, I encountered a man named Chuck, seated on the steps of Lara’s apartment building, under the overhang, and he was nursing a cup of brew, and reading a book. As I was entering the building, I said, “Hi, what are you reading?”

Chuck told me about the science fiction book by Philip Pullman, and I recognized the author from my teaching experience. We spoke for a bit. He told me he was waiting for a ride to a day job, painting and helping a carpenter contractor. He said he didn’t get much work since his stroke, had been in Vietnam and was a vet. He was planning to marry this summer. Chuck was about 60 something, grey-haired and a friendly fellow. Our conversation ended and I entered the apartment. I put some food together in a bag, and took it out to him. He thanked me and then I returned to my warm apartment, thinking, “…this man has done so much for so many. He is trying to do the best he can for himself.”

We met a few more times, and then I told him I would be leaving Bellingham soon to return to Wisconsin. Chuck then said this to me, “I am so happy we met. You didn’t judge me. You stopped to talk to me. You treated me like a human person. I can just feel it when people are judging me, thinking I am nothing. Thank you.  Thank you for making me feel like a worthwhile human being.”

I returned the favor to him, saying, “You made my daytime less lonely. It was good to talk with you. Thank you!”

Later that day, I went downtown to a book store, looking for the sequel to the book he was reading. I found the next two books to THE GOLDEN COMPASS and decided to purchase them for Chuck. I created a card, wrote him a note, stuck a few dollars in it, and wrapped the books.

I didn’t see him anymore before my departure…and felt sad about that, but then Lara surprised me and said, “Mom, I will watch for Chuck and give him your gift.”

I was so happy to hear her words!

And last Friday, more than a month since I left, Chuck reappeared on the doorsteps. Lara saw him and gave him the gift. She said he was so happy!

I received so much more than the very little I gave to these people, who are sleeping and living on the streets of Bellingham.  I am very blessed to have what I have but I also know I need to do more for others. Now I am again in my cornfields, and I have to find a way out of the maze.

The Homeless People of Bellingham made me feel welcomed to their wonderful city!

 

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I have found several very good suggestions on Facebook about little ways people can help the Homeless People. One suggestion is to get some sandwich bags, put a healthy grain bar inside, a piece of fruit, perhaps a toothbrush, toothpaste, nail clippers,  a wash cloth…any small item that would be useful to a person who has no home.

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DEFINITIONS

tuque: Canadian term for woolen hat

Part I: Tales of Bellingham, Washington

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During the past  six months, I had the opportunity on two separate occasions to travel to Bellingham, Washington, with my youngest daughter, Lara, who just returned from two years in Togo with the Peace Corps. She was offered employment there and so we went together to go apartment hunting, along with her Aunt Kathy. I returned at Christmas because this old mother did not want her to have a third Christmas in a row without family.

I love the Pacific Northwest! It is beautiful and the weather not as extreme as I am now experiencing in Wisconsin. The Cascade Mountains, Mt. Baker specifically, and the trees and plants are just a sight to behold! Beauty beyond description!

"Mt. Baker" Photo Credit: Jane H. Johann, c.October, 2015. Taken from "Artist's Point" on the slopes of the Cascade Mountain Range.

“Mt. Baker” Photo Credit: Jane H. Johann, c.October, 2015. Taken from “Artist’s Point” on the slopes of the Cascade Mountain Range.

The people are warm and friendly in Bellingham. The city has a small town atmosphere and I felt very comfortable ambling through the streets during the day, while Lara was at work. I think I averaged three to four miles a day, walking through the city and taking in so many different expressions of life. I was careful not to walk to far West!  A far cry from the quiet soybean and cornfields that surround me here in southeastern Wisconsin.

Lara’s apartment is just two blocks from the view of Bellingham Bay as seen in the enclosed photo in this writing piece. It is also only a half block from the several train tracks.

"Trains of Bellingham" Photo Credit: Jane H. Johann.c.2016, January.

“Trains of Bellingham” Photo Credit: Jane H. Johann.c.2016, January.

The first night, after my 26 hour journey (who knew it would take that long from Wisconsin~ another story!) to Bellingham, I fell asleep very quickly, only to be startled awake at 11 PM with a train running over me! Or, so I thought! Then there was another at midnight and so on, until 3 AM. It was an adjustment, but I did get there by the end of the month and quickly learned not to complain about the noise of the trains to Bellingham residents. They take pride in living close to the tracks and the trains hold a deep connection to them — I am not quite sure what that is yet–will let you all know once I figure it out. However, the trains are delightful to see and appreciate–especially the art work on the various freight cars.

 

 

"Art on the Rails" Bellingham, WA, USA. Photo Credit: . Jane H. Johann, Jan. 2016

“Art on the Rails” Bellingham, WA, USA. Photo Credit: . Jane H. Johann, Jan. 2016

 

 

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Everyday I found something new to appreciate in the city of Bellingham.

Part II: Love and Forgiveness

“All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”Red Rose macro with Helen Keller quote

                                                         -Helen Keller

Love is the deepest and purest when it is freely given and received. It seems so many are afraid of openness. So many are afraid of love. Love enhances us and those we love. How can there be a limit to love?

The more open we are, of course, the more vulnerable we become. But the flip side is, if we are open the more we are truly ourselves and love who we are.  We are open because we accept our limitations and gifts.  We have nothing to fear and nothing to hide.  Love only increases within us and makes us Light Beings to others when we are open and receptive…and the more we can love those around us.  Loving one person does not limit loving others. If we do not measure our love or the love someone has for us, there is plenty of love to go around.  When we become possessive or jealous, we are measuring love. When we begin to measure love, we stifle it or kill it.  Measurement doesn’t come into the equation…we just need to love love and let it be.

Loving is not always easy. Sometimes those we love hurt us and sometimes hurt us deeply. That is the test of our true love–when we can walk through that hurt and still love and care about the person.  We are all human; we all make mistakes –I guess that is how people who are in major hand battle with each other, can come to the peace table, even after members of their own families have been killed by each other’s troops. Yes, that is the extreme–but does give pause for reflection.

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Yet, I think how I wage my own inner battles that can be as devastating as actual combat warfare. I think of how people close to me and whom I love, can lash out with their words or actions and nearly annihilate me. That is the deepest hurt–to give love to another and then to be rejected –when deception enters the picture it becomes even harder–One begins to question one’s own sanity and motives. Self-worth is attacked and self-love struggles. Anger pops out all around–and the peace that was found in the love has gone underground. Love becomes hell. I just want to run away and hide from the world and I want everyone to leave me alone — and WHY? Because I feel like nothing again…like I do not matter to anyone or any cause or purpose. I travel to the point of WHY do I exist!

It is then that I realize my own words and actions—how out of my pain I have said things that were unkind to others…how I acted badly towards others. Sometimes I just want to quit. I think how can I ever be forgiven?

The wounds become deep and fester–I have to pick myself up and put the pieces together again. It is a process and takes time…And even after that, questions still arise. Judgments come from all around. Then I have to take it all to my meditation bench and quietly sift through it–going back to the Source of my breathing.  I have to affirm within myself that I am part of God’s loving being…I  ” live in the heart of God,” to borrow from Kahlil Gibran. It also teaches me to be more caring and loving to others, realizing how words and actions hurt. I see how I need forgiveness from others…and, so I too, must forgive.

I have to forgive myself for my own unloving ways and I have to forgive others –then I can go forward. We are all human. We all make errors in judgment. We each have our shadow side and we have to learn to love even our shadow side and forgive ourselves.

Helen Keller is quoted as saying, “All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

Love deepens who we are as a person and each person we love becomes a part of who we are, shaping our understanding and acceptance of humanity, within ourselves and others. With love of self, both are good side and our shadow side, comes the ability to forgive ourselves and then others.

 

Intrinsic Goodness

“Basic goodness” and “enlightened society” are key concepts in the Shambhala tradition. However, “good” here does not mean good as opposed to bad, but rather “pure, intrinsically good.” That is, despite our struggles and confusion, there is something essentially good about our existence as human beings.”–Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche Dragon, 2013.

We are reminded of the words of Anna Frank: “Despite everything, I believe people are really good at heart.”

Each day is a new beginning…a new day to accept the goodness in oneself and leave all the unsolved mysteries behind us…and go forward believing in ourselves and in one another.  More and more I see how it is important to think the best of the other…to always believe that inside of themselves are the good intentions…that good intention is what motivates them to be joyful and to give without asking in return.

We have been trained so often in our lives to think that things are not possible. We may have experienced numerous occasions when we were told: “That is not right!” “You almost have it!” “No, that is not the correct approach.” We are steeped in doubts about our selves. We think we are never quite “good enough.” What does that mean anyway, “not good enough?”  We hear these negative messages over and over and are told, “No, this is not meant for you”…”You are too old for this position”…”You are over qualified”…”You ask too many questions”…”You have to learn to play the game”…”You should not think so differently”…”You have no choices in life. There is this little dot. That is you…and everything else around you is beyond you or your influence.”  WOW!  All of those negative things I have heard repeatedly, over and over, in my lifetime.

Now, I am called upon to turn-off those negative thoughts. For our thoughts become our actions…our way of being! I am replacing them with love and gentleness towards myself–I look into the mirror each morning and say, “Jane, I love you!” Hey, why not?  Why are we so quick to say the negative to ourselves—NO, we need to shout, “Stop!” when those things come into our brains and begin speaking gentle, loving thoughts to that inner child. It is good to be good to yourself!  Fortunately I came upon this quote in Rebecca Budd’s blog, CelebrationART: July 2014  (http://celebrationart.blogspot.ca/) :“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”   Martha Graham

This quote and the use of it by Rebecca Budd gave me the impetus to move on!

I have tried many different paths…I have succeeded in each one for a time. Then, that path ends and a new one emerges. However, each time, it seems it has taken a bit longer for me to see in which direction to go. The rejections have worn me down.  Then I have to begin to remember the positives of each experience. Yes, it is difficult for me. I will tell the truth –sometimes months—the ultimate rejection and end of each segment of my life—almost unbearable. Then somehow, something occurs, mystically, and breaks through the clouds of depression and a ray of sunlight begins to light the path for me again.  Once more, I gather up my courage and begin the walk down the path. I do not know how I manage to get going, but I have to believe in myself to get back up and start again. I will tell you many, many tears are shed before this happens. Depression hits me deeply. Then out of nowhere, someone comes along and lifts me out of it. Each time, an unknown person, suddenly enters my life–they may only stay for a little span of time–maybe they are present to me in a single word or the speaking of one sentence–but they stay long enough to listen…to allow me to be me …that person gives me enough to spur me onwards! This moment then speaks to me of the intrinsic goodness of humans! For this one person helps me to  move bravely forward into living again! I cannot stress enough how much what we say, what we do, affects one another…how much we may influence another, even though we may be completely unaware of our impact.  This knowledge brings with it a great responsibility on my part. I know I must be more careful of “right speech,”  “right action,” and “right thought.”  I also know I fail at it miserably–but all I can do is ask forgiveness…and move on and try to be a better person in my next moment of living.

I Love People

I Love People (Photo credit: spratmackrel)

This last time, it has taken a long, long time for a path to come my way.  I began this blog in the Fall of 2011.  I think one of my former students told me about WordPress–yes, “the student becomes the teacher.” Another student, Huzaifa, said to me, “Ms. Johann, don’t waste your life playing Farmville!” I admit that I had become somewhat addicted to it and was the proud owner of eight imaginary farms. What this student said to me was not lost on me. It woke me up! Then I began this blog…the first year I did  not write much. I was so hesitant to put my thoughts out into the universe. I was frightened by my thoughts. I was frightened by how others would react to what I said.  But, little by little, I put my thoughts out there.

I know I am not a great writer and probably everything that can be said in this  limited world of ours has already been said. But I do know that writing gives me purpose and maybe no one says it quite like I may say it…so I continue writing.

So, believe in each other. Encourage each other! Forgive each other — because we are all humans — we are all struggling on the path to wholeness. We need each other and we need compassion for one another as we continue towards the LIGHT.  Above all, believe in the intrinsic goodness of each human being! and in yourself!  Take your heart off of the fencepost and give your heart to yourself (that is most important) and to those you meet along the way!

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

thank you to Mich Smith (my dear penfriend from Montreal, Canada), Yoshiko(Yoshiko75), Patty (petitemagique.com), Celestine (readinpleasure) and Sherri (sheridegrom44) for the MOST comments! and to ALL of my WordPress followers who inspire me to continue to write…not only by reading what I write…but through the wonderful blogs YOU each write!  THANK YOU!  Blessings on us all in the year of 2014!

This Is What Fracking Really Looks Like

Illuminate

 

From Slate.com:

“What struck me very personally as an outsider was how any kind of industrial activity feels like an enormous intrusion, almost like a creature from outer space; these drills at night are almost supernatural,” Berman said.

“I looked for points where the industrial activity impacted these quiet rural landscapes, and I found at night was when things came alive, so I combined those pictures with more conventional documentary [style of ]subject-driven photography about people who were having serious health impacts.”

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dreams have no age limits!

I discovered this quote on my Facebook page this evening…well, guess it is early morning! Oh my goodness…it is 12:42AM~  Oh well. This is a great thought to begin your day with! Retiring from teaching after 36 years was so difficult a transition…I am not quite down transitioning yet!  LOL  In any case, I think if we do not have a purpose, then we must create one! And this quote just seems to go with that idea perfectly!  So, forge ahead! You young people who think life has already passed you by—no! Never! Live your dream! Go for it! Give it all you have and don’t ever give up!

Even when the days get so dark and you think you have no one—you have yourself! You are your own best friend and there is no one else who can be there for you who will know exactly what you need than yourself! Yes, others are important in our lives—they teach us to how to BE…they love us…they give us their friendship…but in the end, YOU have to be for YOU! And, there is nothing wrong with that! You are in God’s LOVE—however, you imagine Her to BE! You are loved and you have a  breath…you have air to breathe…you have life to share.

YOU are IMPORTANT! Believe in yourself and never hurt yourself…because we would miss you! We need your LOVE CRYSTAL in our lives! Believe me…please! You have so much beauty and warmth…we need all the LOVE CRYSTALS we can gather!  The world needs YOU!  Yes, I mean YOU!

Just remember, ALWAYS give it one more try! Don’t give up…just give in to love….and know YOU are LOVE….and YOU live in LOVE…and we need LOVE CRYSTALS in this world!  There is so much suffering—give joy to yourself…and share it with the next person! YOU are so important!

And you people who are my ancient age, hey, YOU have a lot of life in you…you are still breathing, aren’t you?  I can tell you from my own experience of retiring unexpectedly—how weird it was! The day after I retired, inevitably one of my three daughters would call me or visit me and say, “Are you alright, Mom? Do you need something? What are you doing, Mom?”   Well, I was still breathing…lol…and I could *not* believe that in 24 hours time they were ready to write up my obituary! I have plenty of life remaining in me…and I have decided that I am NO LONGER RETIRED!

I am on a quest! I feel like the Madam Don Quixote—I find myself examining my moral principles and beliefs…my preconceptions about things…and misconceptions…and whether I should follow the chivalric code! Sometimes I even question my sanity!  However, since our country seems to have reverted to the feudalism of the Middle Ages, I may as well go along for the journey. I have a strange liking for Robin Hood as of late, especially when I think of the 1% and how their egos are so inflated they cannot see how they got to where they are–they have forgotten the peasants who did the labor!  I see our politicians as the Medieval Kings and Princes — who seem to pass laws that protect their assets, but do little to serve the general interests of the population! We certainly need a new Round Table with chivalrous knights! 26,000 sexual assaults took place in the USA Military last year!—wow—speak about reverting to a time when women were only important for one thing! My, how civilized we have become!

I am striving to live as a minimalist, and realize I have a distance to travel to achieve that goal. In addition to that, I decided I am going to write and write and write! I will write and be heard until the world leaders listen to us and take their job to represent US seriously!  US = America…USA.  I will write until world leaders everywhere listen to their people and stop using us to kill each other! I will write until people begin to see how guns are violent and how those manufacturers do not really care about your safety—they care only to fill their pockets with blood money.

I will write, and hopefully, you will join me, until every young girl and woman, knows it is her right to be respected and not used for sexual favors…that she has the right not to be raped! I will write until every homeless person has a home to live in.  I will write so that the mentally challenged are given a chance to be understood.

I will write until every child is respected as a human being and is not seen as someone who has no human rights…I will write until each child is seen as a gift and not a piece of property to be ordered around! I will write until every gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual person is respected as a true human being deserving to live like everyone else does! This is particularly on my mind this evening because I just read about a young man, 32 year old Mark Carson,  was walking down the street in New York City last Friday evening when a man came up to him and his friends, yelled “f—ot” and “queer,” and shot him in the head. WHY are we killing each other? WHY?

I will write until everyone sees that it does not matter which faith we believe in…it does not matter if someone thinks or believes in a different God or no God—what matters is that we love each other and keep love alive in this world!

Thus, this is my new purpose in life…to write for those who cannot write…to speak for those who cannot speak!

I will keep writing for hope, for beauty, for truth, for honesty, for love…because we have to do this! If we do not do it, who will?  We have to write to give people courage and hope and tell them there is beauty in this world…and we do care about them…each and every one!

And, to be perfectly honest, I need a purpose! Everyone does! And we can help each other in this! Encourage one another and keep those love crystals passing to one another!